Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Not This Time

Ah, I've heard back from the agent. She read Stillwater all the way through, she gave it to the head of her agency and discussed it with her colleagues; she likes the main character and the setting; she thinks the moral questions work.

But:
But ultimately what [agency head] and I both felt after reading was that this doesn't quite transform the book in a new way enough. I really enjoyed reading it -- but it felt like a beat-for-beat retelling of Mansfield Park to me. I never quite felt like the characters took on their own life or surprised me. They felt real, and I cared about them, but I didn't feel like I had learned something new about Mansfield Park by the end of this book. I wanted a little bit more from Melly, somehow -- not anything different about her moral sensibility, but because she's such a great character and you're obviously so passionate about her, I wanted some deeper realization from her. I also have to admit that Malcolm doesn't quite make the transition to modern life well -- I was really angry at him for his dumb infatuation with Alys, as I think I was supposed to be, but it was a little hard to understand how we switched to loving Melly so quickly. I think their relationship needs a little more development, somehow. (This may be part of figuring out whatever it is that's missing from Melly's arc too.) 
I'm sorry not to have better news for you! Possibly another agent will feel differently, but I wanted to share our feedback in case it struck a chord with you, because I do wonder if some further revising/rethinking would make this book something really spectacular. There's so much that's working that I suspect it could be a real hit, but it feels like it's only 90% of the way there. 
...I would just look for agents open to upmarket women's fiction or literary fiction and query widely. You might also consider Catholic presses if there are some reasonable ones, given the strong Catholic angle of the book.  
She thinks I'm a beautiful writer and offers to read my next book, if I don't find an agent for Stillwater.

I'm taking it as a favorable sign that she read it all the way through and shared it, and that she offers a quantity of feedback. All in all, it's not a surprise that the first agent I sent the book to won't take it. But how convenient it would have been to have it all fall into my lap like that, without having to put in the hard work of querying...

9 comments:

John Farrell said...

90% there is VERY good! She might take a look at it again once you've addressed some of the points.

Susan WD said...

An overworked agent offered to read your next book? Not what you wanted to hear, but...that's a win, I think!

Mary said...

I know that a 'no' is very disappointing, but what great feedback that was! No guessing there, and she did not tear it apart. She said it could be really spectacular! That is fantastic for your first critical reading. Way to go!

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Yes, reading through the whole book is a very good sign indeed! However, I don't agree with her criticism that your novel is just a "beat-for-beat retelling of Mansfield Park.

What you do, and I really love this, is to take Mansfield Park and transpose it into a different time and place while making the moral issues of the novel intelligible to the "merely modern" reader. The novel can be read on its own merits by someone who's never read Austen before. The reader who already knows and loves Mansfield Park reaps an extra measure of enjoyment.

re: Malcolm

It wasn't so much that he quickly switched to loving Melly. I think what was really going on was that he just didn't realize that his nonromantic love for Melly might be morphing into romantic love -- especially when the dazzling Alys entered the scene. And he's not the first person to mistake infatuation for love. (And he is, after all, rather inexperienced.) So when he realizes his mistake, it's not like he's starting from an emotional zero when falling in love with Melly.

Brandon said...

While the largest room in the world is the room for improvement, it's worth keeping in mind that with literary agents it is often as much a matter of finding the right agent for the book as it is a matter of getting the book right; even an excellent work can drift for some time. But it is a good sign that that her positive comments are so positive and her critical comments so specific.

John Farrell said...

Exactly. Plus, she did it in very good time. Most agents take weeks and weeks.

Sherwood said...

I think that is a sharp insight--and reflects the weakest point in Mansfield Park. (I also agree with the agent.) I feel a new chapter is exactly what both books need. Austen switched to narrative "tell" to the harm of her book, but that can't be fixed now. You, however, *can* fix your fictional conversation with Mansfield Park, which would afford more insight into his understanding of himself, and what love means--and thereby address the "not bringing something new" to the whole.

Kelly said...

Wow, read the whole book quickly AND gave you a lot of feedback with praise, that's an amazingly good sign.

Rob said...

A rousing success for you, even if not the kind you wanted. Keep writing (and making me jealous!).